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Monday, August 29, 2011

How Bout Them Apples?

I had to share with you some really exciting news. (No mom...definitely not pregnant.) It's related to how we've been eating and actual NUMBERS....not just a post on how great we've been feeling.  On day 53 of eating Paleo, Jon had some routine blood work done. Both of us were really anxious to see his results - especially since we've made such drastic changes to our diet - and compare them to his previous blood work when we were eating a standard "healthy" American diet chock full of whole grains.

We've all been told again and again by food marketers that grains - specifically whole grains - help lower cholesterol and are essential for heart health. That sentimental Cheerios commercial where the child serves his Dad bowls of cereal in bed to help keep his heart healthy comes to mind. How many of us have moms who reminded us to "eat our oatmeal!" as kids? And don't we all feel a little less guilty when ordering our sandwich on whole wheat bread because it's "better"? Millions of dollars have been spent on grain packaging screaming to us from supermarket shelves, "Buy me if you want to be healthy!!" Meanwhile, meat consumption has been thoroughly demonized as contributing to the astronomical increase in heart disease and high cholesterol plaguing Americans. But everything we've read on Paleo and Primal eating begs to differ. Now we have our own proof.

Not only is Jon's blood work better now in 2011 than it was exactly one year ago in August of 2010, it's significantly healthier than it was in 2001. So much of his "bad stuff" went down. Back in 2001, Jon was in really great shape. He just finished college where he was a nationally ranked athlete in his prime. He was really focused on his diet and exercise as they essential to his performance. His triglycerides  - blood fat that may indicate a risk of heart disease - were 261! Normal is 0-150. Last year they were 203. This year? 145.  His cholesterol in 2001 was 198. Fast forward a decade++, 4 kids, 4 houses, a few stressful jobs: 183. Just from last year alone, his LDL went down 15 points. I'm pretty sure a major job change and huge cross country move didn't help. How can we not attribute this our new way of eating? (Oh, and he's down 19 lbs. in 53 days as well!)

We eat meat 2-3 times a day. Some of it is lean and some definitely not (bacon, sausage, pork, etc.) We eat lots of healthy fats: real butter, buckets of olive and coconut oil, and nuts galore. Oh, and we have eggs at least 5 times a week. This alone would make most people cringe and say have fun with that heart disease and obesity. But we also eat veggies and fruits by the truckload while simultaneously avoiding grains, industrialized seed oils, artificial preservatives, and excess sugar. Clearly, there is something in this mix that works. His exercise level has more or less been the same as it was last year and certainly less than it was in 2001. The only huge difference in lifestyle between now and then: the absence of grains.

So we admit this isn't a pure scientific study and of course there are variables. But the results are kinda hard to negate. Where the majority of people's blood work gets worse with age, Jon's didn't.  Between 2001 and 2010 it got worse. Between 2010 and 2011 it got better. We'll have to watch and see what happens over time, but for now these results are mighty interesting! 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Heaven in a muffin...

Hey all! I've been away from blogger life recently. We've had a lot of visitors and lots of back to school stuff going on. I will do a Paleo update soon (we're still going strong!!!) I also have a lot of fun Paleo recipes to post that were big hits (stuffed eggplant - delish), but this one couldn't wait.  It is THAT. GOOD.

I made 100% grain-free blueberry muffins this morning. Actually, they're for tomorrow's breakfast to go along with protein smoothies. But I wanted to try today in case they failed. They did not. I'm just tickled at how nicely they came out. They have some honey/agave in them so probably not an everyday thing (unlike my apple muffins which are 100% wholesome - eat as many as you want). But these puppies are pretty darn close to bakery muffins. Plus they are loaded with precious medium-chain fatty acids, lauric acid (as in the immune system boosting stuff in breast milk), and obesity fighting compounds. They also will increase the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and amino-acids you're eating that meal. AND they have 2x the fiber of wheat bran!!!!! Not to mention, they are totally grain-free.....not just gluten-free. I've got a post in the works about how something labeled "gluten-free" isn't always best because often times it is taking out one demon, but subbing in a bunch of others in its place. More on this later...

For now...ENJOY!

Goodmorning Blueberry Muffins 

100% Grain-Free Blueberry Muffins :)
Easy peasy recipe. Makes 12 muffins. Mixing is a decent arm workout. Could try using a mixer. If you're eating primal/paleo, you will have most of this stuff in your pantry already (essential staples for healthy cooking!) Otherwise, the only "non-traditional" ingredients are coconut oil and coconut flour - both available in natural sections of your grocery store and definitely available at your health store, Trader Joes, Amazon, or

1 pint fresh organic blueberries
6 T unrefined coconut oil - it comes in a jar and is solid. Warm jar in warm water for a minute.
6 eggs
5 T honey (or about 3-4 T agave syrup if using)
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup organic coconut flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder

1. Preheat to 400.
2. Wash and DRY blueberries. You don't want extra water in these muffins. Spin 'em in your salad spinner.
3. Put eggs in a bowl of semi-hot water for a few minutes. You want them warm before cracking open or else they will cause the coconut oil to solidify when mixed.
4. Combine oil, eggs, honey, salt, and vanilla in a big bowl.
5. Combine flour and baking powder in a separate bowl.
6. Thoroughly mix flour bowl into the wet bowl until there are no lumps (tone up those arms!)
7. Gently fold in berries.
8. Pour batter into greased muffin tray - you can grease with coconut oil on a paper towel for a chemical-free no-stick option.
9. Bake 17-18 minutes. Muffins are done when knife comes out clean.

Coconut flour makes things looks "burned" way before they are. So if they come out a bit darker, don't fear. There are only 11 muffins in this picture....but this made 12. What? Someone HAD to try them afterall. The sacrifices I make. Sigh.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I swear I'm not on speed.

This week I had a mini-awakening. I came to a fork in the road in the last post and spent a lot of time thinking about it. I've decided to take the path less traveled (i.e. against the grain).  Since making that decision, I feel really, really good. Super confident and ready to go. So I have two things to share today:
  1. A new perspective on grains...5 Truths
  2. Forget the weight loss, etc. How do I feel on eating primal/paleo?
5 Truths About Grains
A lot of people have told me they struggle with the no-grain thing. It is the biggest obstacle in Paleo/Primal eating. So I'll share with you 5 Truths about grains that I've come up with through my oodles of research. Rereading them helps me maintain perspective:
  • Grains are a mode of transportation. They carry the nutrient-dense food into our bodies: the meats/veggies on the roll, the oil/cheese/nut butter on the bread, the curry or stir-fry on the rice, the sauces on the pasta. Thinking of grains as simply modes of transportation puts me outside the box when it comes to meal planning. It forces creativity and success.
  • Grains themselves lack nutritional value. Either they are void of any nutritional value (refined bread or flours) or if they do contain macronutrients (like brown rice/whole grain wheat), the proteins in the whole grains bind those macronutrients and completely stop them from being absorbed anyway. Then they also bind other healthy stuff you eat along with the whole grains to that passes through you, too. Finally, all grass grains contain protein that attacks the lining of your intestines creating holes (aka "leaky gut" - google it) which is where all of the diseases (from allergies to arthritis to heart disease) associated with grain consumption start. 
  • Grains rob belly space. My entire adult life, I've approached meal planning like this: meat, veggie, starch - plus maybe a salad or bread on the side. Sounds so normal and healthy, right? But if I am serving the pasta or bread, I am taking up valuable nutrient space in all the tummies I feed. So in actuality, serving grains is denying my kids nutrition. Gulp
  • Grains are expensive. Seems counter-intuitive when you think about how cheap a loaf of bread is compared to a grass-fed steak. But if you put a price tag on the nutrients contained in those two foods, it will cost you FAR MORE in grain buying to touch the nutrition value in whole, real foods. (I'm not going to talk about the healthcare costs associated with grain consumption...too much for me to tackle at this point.) 
  • Grains wreak havoc on insulin levels. I'll gladly take an insulin spike for a slice of nut-crust cheesecake or a helping of delicious ripe pineapple or honey drizzled over a warm no-grain muffin. But for a slice of bread? The up and down, highs and all that harm, repeated day after day after day for a lifetime worth it? Recent research says 1 out of 3 Americans will end up with diabetes. If it was a choice between eating grains at will and living life with diabetes, what would you choose?

How do I feel?
I've told you about our weight loss and lack of belly aches/ADD symptoms in the kids. But I often get asked, how do you feel? Not being a scientist, I am unable to gauge the effects of going grain-free in percentages and numbers. To explain it, I actually need to rely on my rusty journalist skills. Please don't laugh. I swear I'm not on speed.

When I wake up, I feel energized and ready to go. I'm excited to see my kids and can't wait to start the day. I feel positive about my family, my home, and our health. I maintain constant energy throughout the day - no crashes at 3pm or urge to nap. I'm motivated to get things done while also enjoying our time together during the day. Everyday burdens, annoying to-do's, and stressful situations seem to roll off my back easier. When Jon comes home, he is upbeat and enthusiastic...regardless of the hard day he just had at work.  As a whole, we are just so much more positive about everything. We don't suffer from headaches anymore. We sleep well. We complain less. I feel like a more forgiving person. I feel like I've finally got a hold on my life and my future. And I feel like my kids are witnessing a transformation as well: a happy, confident mom.

I know it sounds hokey - like some perky motivational speaker after five Red Bulls and a quick snort of cocaine, but I swear to you it's the truth. Is it different than how we were before? HOLY COW YES. I mean, that is why we decided to take this journey in the first place. We were miserable and chunky. We felt glazed and foggy more often than not. Motivation was hard to come by. I loathed waking up, couldn't wait to go to bed, and looked forward to that occasional glass of red more than I used to. Then that week of my birthday, I said life had to be better (and easier) than what we had going.

I am really starting to feel like we won the jackpot in a sense because we may have found the solution. Simply eliminating a food has brought huge changes. I really was struggling with my confidence in this experiment because it is so not mainstream. But how can I go back? I have to give credit where credit is due. Leaving grains behind has made us healthier and happier. It's not easy. (And man do I want "normal" pizza sometimes!) But I've come to the realization that this lifestyle really is working for us. And that makes me feel good. :)

    Monday, August 8, 2011

    30 days - An Honest Update

    Have you all joined Pinterest? Do. Or maybe don't depending on how much you cherish your free time because Pinterest seems to suck it up. If you don't know, it's a site where you can collect images that you dig - ideas you admire or  inspire you. It's a creativity mecca. Perfect for type-A organizers like myself.

    So what does Pinterest have to do with Crispy Living? Well as I'm working hard to convince myself that spending oodles of time on Pinterest is actually a way to unwind, de-stress, and enjoy pretty stuff (which is a lie - mostly it just makes me anxious to make/do more and better), I'm exposed to a whole lot of cool people doing cool things with food. A pretty picture of a dish leads me to someone's blog, then I click around and in 10 minutes I've bookmarked 10 blogs while soaking up how other people approach healthy eating, specifically grains. Some people hate grains and demonize them. Others don't give a flying hoot about the use of grains, as long as their dishes taste good and look pretty. The commonality between the two sides of the grain-issue: Everyone seems pretty darn confident about themselves.

    But I admit it. I'm not. We're at 30 days on our Paleo journey and I still have doubts. It's not that I doubt if eating non-grain whole foods is good. I know it is. We feel and look better. As I've detailed in previous posts, the changes have been and continue to be amazing.  But do I have all out confidence? No. Not yet anyway.

    Here is my problem: Shunning grains is really radical. It takes massive effort and constant vigilance in this modern grain-obsessed world. It goes against everything I've ever known about healthy eating. In a way, it also attacks my fondest memories - coming from an Italian family, a good portion of our happiness stemmed from eating meals on our laps because every table surface in the house was covered with food. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, my mom...all are amazing cooks who are hardwired to cook enough for an army every meal. We ate, ate well, and ate well together. Pasta, breads, breaded things, cakes, cookies, pies and more desserts. These foods represent fun and family, warmth and love to me. How can all that I know and grew up with be so wrong? Not only wrong, but harmful with potential scary - even life altering - consequences?? How can bread - something so benign, so warm, so friendly, so inviting - be so awful??!!

    So I'm really struggling with the whole crispiness of Paleo. You've got your extreme mainstreamers vs. your hardcore crunchies all screaming at the top of their lungs they're right.  Then you've got my entire knowledge of food vs. science - the two couldn't conflict more. But I can't deny science...that wonderful savior, yet crushing fact pusher that is strongly leaning on the side of the crunchies on this debate. Not only does science say grains are terrible for human consumption, even partial consumption (aka going crispy-style) is just as bad. I've read and read and read till my head hurt. I've had dreams involving swimming in grains, running with Laura Ingalls in fields of grains...even a dream where I had an argument with Harry Potter as he ate his bowl of porridge in the Great Hall at Hogwarts. Truth be told, I want to frolic in the grain field with Laura while Ma bakes fresh bread us, but the truth is, I can't deny the science and I really need to tell Harry the truth about his porridge.

    I guess I can't expect a 34 years of grain-eating and a whole-grains-are-the-healthiest-thing-you-can-eat mentality to disappear overnight.  I think I lack confidence because if I am going to believe the science - which how can I not - I can't be Crispy on this one. I think it may be an all or nothing way of eating. That is essentially closing the door my grain-eating past and that's scary (or is it opening the door to a healthier life? Bah. Optimism.)

    I think my lack of confidence also stems from loneliness. Not eating like 99% of America and friends/family is isolating. Books and research may be inspiring, but are not warm friends who can understand or can sympathize.

    Making this life change even harder are the criticisms, comments, and raised eyebrows from friends, neighbors, acquaintances, etc. Just because we aren't eating grains anymore, people think we've gone bonkers. It feels like people equate not eating grains to selling all our possessions and joining a cult somewhere in the desert. Really truly. Some of the questions/comments have been demoralizing.

    And it's not just Jon and myself feeling the need to defend our choices. Our son was scrutinized while playing with a friend for saying "we don't eat bread." The little boy told him that was the stupidest thing he ever heard. My son said (proud mama moment), "If you are calling that stupid, then you are calling my mom stupid," and was prepared to stand his ground before our oldest interceded.

    Not everyone has been so judgmental. My oldest had a sleepover. I packed her a breakfast to bring. The mother was genuinely intrigued as to what we were doing and the foods we were eating and asked for some recipes. I guess she didn't find our attempt to wade through the food marketing shoving corn puffs and wheat bread in our faces in the pursuit of better health as all that crazy. It was nice.

    Anyway, I don't have a perfect way to sum up this post except to say I'm still learning about, still dealing with, and still questioning everything when it comes to not eating grains. But I don't have it all neat and tidy and packaged together with a big bow and a tag that reads, "This way is best." We are all still definitely grain-free, sugar free (minus honey/agave), and industrialized oil free. But I'm learning this process to a healthy, vibrant life is an evolution. A few months ago, I didn't know diets and research would consume the majority of my mental energy everyday for weeks and weeks. But now that I'm here, I cannot unlearn what I've learned. I know what to do....but can I successfully bridge the mainstream/crunchy gap?

    Ugh. Too much thinking. Time to go "relax" on Pinterest. At least there I can chill out for a few minutes....that's how it is supposed to work, right?

    Friday, August 5, 2011

    Will Eating Whole Grains Help You Live Longer? | Mark's Daily Apple

    Will Eating Whole Grains Help You Live Longer? | Mark's Daily Apple

    Hey all! Mark's Daily Apple is very motivational website. His book, The Primal Blueprint, pretty much echoes what I'm trying to do with our diets. (Funny that I discovered his book after deciding on this eating experiment.) I will warn you that I have dozens of pages I'd like to link here with the caption, "Yeah. What he said." But I'll try to do so sparingly.

    The reason I like this link so much is that it helps decode a study: Whole Grains are best!  However, this article tears the study to pieces and shows that the conclusions are skewed. Unfortunately, while news outlets gave air time/page space to the original study, they don't like to extend the same courtesy to articles like these that prove the conclusions wrong...I guess it could have something to do with the fact this article contradicts many of their revenue sources (food commercials). But it doesn't matter. It's a good link - definitely worth 5 minutes of your time.

    Monday, August 1, 2011

    3 weeks. 3 cheats. An update.

    Hello All! I've been off the blog for a few days. We had a staycation where Jon took a few days off and we did family things. I cooked a whole bunch of Paleo stuff ahead of time and took a mini-cooking vacation at the same time. It was a nice break. Paleo definitely involves kitchen time.

    But I'm back and YES we are still eating Paleo! It's been THREE weeks! I gotta say, I'm pretty darn proud of everyone.

    As I had hoped, eating this way has gotten infinitely easier as the weeks have passed. I no longer scour the web/books for recipes every meal. We just make a lot of them up ourselves. That's not to say I'm not using cookbooks. I am. I actually have made some epic WINNERS and epic LOSERS based on collected recipes lately. I'll post more about those later this week. But in general, menu planning and shopping stress I felt that first week is gone. The oddity of skipping 95% of the aisles of the grocery store is fading. So I guess you can say cooking wise, we're rolling along just fine. BUT, we had 3 cheats in the last 3 weeks.

    The Cheats
    #1. Popcorn. I've made popcorn a 3 times so far. Contrary to the Green Giant's extensive marketing, corn is a grain - not a vegetable. And if you want to get technical about it, it's a Paleo no-no. But guess what? This is crispy living - not hardcore zealot living - and I love popcorn. So do the kids. We had a camp out in the living room last night with a movie and I made popcorn. I've seen no adverse reactions to it the times we've had it and science wise, it's not even close to being on the same destructive scale as other grains like wheat. But I will buy/make only organic popcorn. Anything else is guaranteed to be a GMO.

    #2. Jon had two beers. To be specific, they were black and tans at the local Irish pub with a buddy. And I would have done the exact same thing! B&T's are a personal favorite. But guess what? Beer has gluten because, duh, it's made from wheat. As self-described beer connoisseurs, we think this fact sucks. Thanks mother nature. Alcohol wise, we've only had wine now and again since we went Paleo. But ordering a red wine at an authentic Irish pub that makes the best B&T's in the world? I don't think so. I would take the gluten bullet for that any day of the week. Unfortunately, Jon dealt with the after effects. Having been completely grain-free for 19 days, his body had gone through detox. Those beers truly set him back for the next 2 days. I'm not exaggerating. He was tired and felt "hazy" - not a fun time for him and a stark contrast to the Jon he was. Could it be solely from the beers? Who can say, but he was feeling great up until that point. In the meantime, he and I took a dive into the "gluten-free" beer world. If you have the slightest fondness for beer, please, please, please never try one of them. Follow my advice and I just saved you $10/6-pack and lots of disappointment/gagging. This no beer thing is a bit of an issue, though. We will have to figure this one out!

    #3. Dinner out. Part of our staycation involved a day trip up north. We had an early breakfast (egg cupcakes I made the night before), I packed our lunch for a picnic (nitrate-free lunchmeat roll-ups & lots of veggies) and brought a bunch of car-friendly Paleo snacks. But I knew we would eat dinner out. I didn't have the luxury of researching restaurants/menus ahead of time - we just sort of were winging the trip. We chose a popular place and I crossed my fingers there would be SOMETHING grain-free on the menu. And there was something. ONE thing. I'm not joking. There was one dish on the menu that was grain-free (and only if you said to hold the wontons): a mandarin chicken salad. I had this. I'm pretty sure the dressing was pure sugar as I felt super jittery afterwards. Jon had a steak and salad, but it came with a big fat onion ring. The kids, well it was processed, refined grain-heaven (or hell depending on your view): breaded meat on a bun, deep fried breaded cheese, or refined white pasta with fake cheese. That was it. Oh, and they all came with an insulin, I mean breadstick.  The younger 3 opted for the mac & cheese. I was pretty upset by the choices as I had spent the last 3 weeks pouring a lot of time and energy into cleansing their systems, but put my frustration aside and let go (crispy, crispy, crispy).  Everyone devoured their dinners, but my son and daughter felt immediately sick and complained of bellyaches for the 3-hour drive home. Conversely, my oldest opted for hot wings and a side of sauteed mushrooms - no grains. She is totally into this grain-free eating as she has noticed a huge physical impact: NO MORE BREAKOUTS...which is like hitting the tween lottery. I was pretty proud of her.

    Feelin' Fine
    Overall, kids are doing a-ok. Minus the restaurant dinner, they have been bellyache-free. Everyone seems happy and content. They now run to the fridge for snacks - not the pantry for granola bars or goldfish. All mention of those snack foods has ceased, though my 4 year-old seems to say, "When we can have cereal again, I'm having (insert cereal name here)," more frequently than I'd like.  Hoping as time goes on, that will fade. Hoping anyway. They also are becoming snobby with likes and dislikes. One likes the carrots this way. The other that way. Then they switch. One day it's all about raisins. The next it's about blueberries and raisins are gross. I've just decided to concede to these fickle desires. If the battle is less raisins and more blueberries....they can win that one.

    Jon and I feel good - energized and positive. Our weight loss is not as rapid as it was, but we're still down 12 and 9 lbs. respectively. At this point, I'm not focusing on weight loss I just want to get in better shape and actually hope to gain some muscle weight. I've been biking and swimming. I'm also looking to take a stand-up paddleboarding class with my sister when she visits soon! We are beyond blessed with beautiful lakes at every turn here - must take advantage. Jon is a biking fool these days. He's been biking so much, he broke 7 spokes on his rear tire. I took that as a good thing!

    (*Warning: sappy husband moment...) I'm very thankful for Jon and his commitment to this lifestyle change we've made. He's always been uber-supportive of anything I've ever wanted to do, but this goes beyond just supporting me. He is my partner in crime on this. He's been the rock when my resolve gets iffy. Together we've been a united front for the kids to see - which we hope is teaching them lessons that stick with them for life: 1) We can't be played against each other - on this or your request to break curfew when you are older. 2) The food we choose to nourish our bodies with is important for many reasons.  3) And Our health is something we should all take delicate care of because no matter how much money someone has, they can never buy back good health. Most nights he's right along side me chopping and stirring, laughing and joking, drinking a glass of wine and having fun. We've stumbled upon yet another thing in which we make a great team.

    Coming up
    This week I'll post some more recipes as well as some thoughts about crispy naysayers...we've come across a few lately. I've also developed a new view on the theory behind why we eat grains which helps me feel strong when everything else is tearing me down. Finally, we need to talk about school lunches as that is right around the corner.  Until then, be well and enjoy!